Volume 10 Number 44
                       Produced: Sun Dec  5 16:59:37 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Rabbinic Authority (4)
         [Marc Shapiro, Pinchus Laufer, Andy Jacobs, Arnold Lustiger]
Rabbinic Authority - Horayot
         [Mecheal Kanovsky]
Rabbinical Infallibility
         [Shlomo H. Pick]


From: Marc Shapiro <mshapiro@...>
Date: Wed, 1 Dec 93 08:29:16 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority

What is interesting about the whole debate re. sages erring is that there
has never been a sage who claimed to be infallible. Any of the rabbis who
urged their followers to remain in Europe would admit that he erred. As
has often been pointed out, no one is blaming them, just pointing out that
they are human. R. Henkin in his recent volume of responsa quotes numerous
sources in this regard. If I told someone to remain in Europe and he died
everyone would agree that I made a mistake, how is it any different if a
gadol did it. People have said that when a gadol makes a decision such as
this he looks into the Torah etc. This is totally false. The gadol, as
everyone else, simply considers whether Europe will be safe. He bases his
decision not on the Torah but upon what he thinks Germany is going to do,
and to arrive at this decision he might ask an expert in German history
for some perspective. The gadol is making a political judgement which has
nothing to do with how learned in Torah he is. Furthermore, I don't
understand why people are attacking the view that says gedolim erred. How
can they attack Daas Torah. The Daas Torah of R. Soloveitchik, R. Herzog,
R. Weinberg, R. Charlap, R. Zevin, etc. is that the previous generation
erred. Since this is Daas Torah, it must be accepted. (Obviously, people
choose whatever Daas Torah they wish based upon their overall outlook. No
one feels bound to any individual Daas Torah since you can always find a
rebbe who will validate your own social-political views. Thus if you hate
Zionism your Daas Torah becomes Satmar but if you love Zionism your Daas
Torah becomes Soloveitchik or Gush Emunim.)
						Marc Shapiro

From: <plaufer@...> (Pinchus Laufer)
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 93 07:49:10 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority

I am troubled by the implication in many of the posts on the extent of
Rabbinic authority that the Chassidic approach is absolutist (and wrong)
while if the "Yeshivish" or "Litvish" world has any of these
"undesirable" aspects it is because the bad Chasidic approach is rubbing
off on the "true" and more correct Litvish/Yeshivish community.

The anti-chasssidic bias is totally inappropriate for this forum ,
especially as regards the point under discussion where there is no clean
cut between the camps.

From: dca/G=Andy/S=Jacobs/O=CCGATE/OU1=<DCAALPTS@...> (Andy Jacobs)
Date: 2 Dec 93 05:04:11 GMT
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority

> From: Freda Birnbaum <FBBIRNBA@...>
> Subject: Rabbinic authority, free will, et al.

I would like to respond to Freda Binrbaum's questions, when replying to
Jonathan Goldstein:

> In V10N30, Jonathan Goldstein somewhat takes issue with my statements
>> ...  Thus, whether
>> we like the consequences or not, whether we perceive the decision as
>> being the best one or not - is irrelevant. The psak Halacha still
>> reflects G-d's will.

> To me, this reflects a frightening passivity in the face of events. Is
> EVERYTHING that happens God's will?  If so, then we end up with the
> impossible statement that "the Nazis were doing God's will".

Freda, there is a large gap between "All psak Halacha" and "Everything
that happens".  I was not aware that Hitler consulted his LOR before
caring out his plans against the Jews.

Although, I have heard a stronger question asked of the Egyptians.  In
their case, G-d had prommised hardship for the Jewish people, so why
should they be punnished?  Certainly they were carring out "G-d's will."
One explaination I've heard, is that they went beyond what was needed.
So if we are taught that the Egyptians, who were fulfilling the word
of G-d, will be punished, then certainly we can conclude that the
Nazis will also be punished.

 - Andy

From: <alustig@...> (Arnold Lustiger)
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 93 10:32:25 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority

I, as well as the majority of mail.jewish readers, have been following
this discussion with avid interest. I would like to touch on some highly
personal, subjective and disjointed thoughts on the topic, since it is
one with which I grapple almost daily, for reasons you will see below.

First of all, I would like to say that the topic is probably the most 
important which mail.jewish has addressed. I believe that the issue of 
"da'as Torah" is the defining characteristic separating "right wing" from 
"centrist" Orthodoxy: Zionism, secular studies, Torah U'mada, etc are merely 
individual manifestations of this overall disagreement. Having just attended 
the Aguda convention plenary session Motzei Shabbat of Thanksgiving weekend, 
these differences are stark indeed.

The discussion in mail.jewish parallel the discussions in the latest issue 
of Tradition, which is wholly devoted to this topic (an issue in which 
m.j'er Eli Turkel had IMHO the best submission).  The discussion has 
centered to a large extent on whether or not "da'as Torah" is *binding* in 
extra-halakhic matters, and I think substantial evidence has been presented 
that it is not. I would however like to redirect the sense of the discussion 
to put the problem in bold relief.

I would like to start from the following premise: those people who are 
purported to be gedolim are in fact what they are purported to be. There is 
no question that Gadlus is a meritocracy: R. Shach, R. Yosef , R. Elya Svei, 
etc. are indeed phenomenal giants in Torah learning. This status in my 
opinion is undeniable, and this realization must underly any discussion 
regarding emunat chachamim today.

This fact leads to the first paradox. When we engage in discussion regarding 
Rabbinic Authority, bringing sources and scholarly opinion, we are missing a 
crucial fact. There are no better masters of this source material than the 
gedolim themselves. When they insist that their opinions constitutes da'as 
Torah in extra halakhic matters, and they insist that their opinions are 
binding, none of us are even remotely qualified to second guess them, no 
matter how much scholarly debate takes place in this forum or in Tradition. 
The premise that "da'as Torah" constitutes a mask for a political power grab 
by the Gedolim is nothing less than slander.

There is no way to put this lightly, so I will be frank. Having said the 
above, I should also say that their "da'as Torah"  opinions are often so 
offensive to me, I ask myself how I possibly can even seriously consider 
them. For example, R. Schach has 1) all but prohibited secular high school 
education 2) dismisses the learning in Hesder Yeshivos as literally 
worthless 3) questions the necessity of the Israeli military and 4) in the 
Steinsaltz controversy conducts a virtual witch hunt. If you doubt that R. 
Shach holds these opinions binding on everyone, just pick up a copy of Yated 

Is the divide between centrism and right wing Orthodoxy such that I am the 
only one to struggle with this? R. Shach may very well be the preeminent 
Torah sage of our generation! What possible right do I have to disagree with 
him, especially since the other recognized Gedolim today don't (at least 
openly) disagree with him? On the other hand, how can I possibly subscribe 
to such noxious views? 

In my opinion, it is unfortunate that Centrist Orthodoxy does not fill this 
gap, either substantively or conceptually. With the petira of R. 
Soloveitchik zt'l, there are few legitimate advocates to buck the "da'as 
Torah" trend against secular studies and Zionism.  

This issue has recently come into bold relief for me. I am in the middle of 
trying to help my son make a decision regarding Yeshiva High schools. His 
rebbe is trying to get him to go to one of the Lakewood Yeshivas. Secular 
studies have degraded significantly in these schools in the last 20 years, 
and I would like him to learn in a Yeshiva with as rigorous a religious 
program (i.e. night seder, a full time beis medrash) as these Yeshivas, but 
with an excellent secular program. Unfortunately such a Yeshiva does not 
exist (at least in America).  There is no question in my mind that the 
degradation in secular studies in these Yeshivot in general is a deliberate 
policy of the Roshei Yeshiva, guided by the gedolim, as a means to preserve 
the primacy of Torah. 

What right as a layman do I have to demand a Yeshiva which goes against this 
policy? What right as a father do I have *not* to make such a demand?  

Arnie Lustiger


From: <KANOVSKY@...> (Mecheal Kanovsky)
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 93 23:06:19 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbinic Authority - Horayot

Regarding whether the word of a rabbi is final or not. The first mishna
in tractate horayot deals with a situation when the "sanhedrin hagadol"
which is THE supreme court issued a psak (not an opinion but a psak!)
and it turned out that they were wrong (yes rabbis make mistakes too)
and there was a student (talmid) who knew that they were wrong but went
ahead with the ruling of the sanhedrin, he has to bring his own "korban
chatat" (a sacrifice for the wrong deed that he has done). The gemora
goes on to explain that this students mistake was in the understanding
of the meaning of the pasuk (verse) "kol asher yorucha" (that you should
do what the rabbis say) and instaid of following the sanhedrin blindly
he should have asked them and told them of his problems with the ruling
(psak). Here we are talking about a student questioning the halachik
authority bar none and if one should question on halachik matters then
"kal vachomer" (for sure, very loose translation) on things that are not
pure halacha. Of course when I say that one could "question authority" I
am not saying that one should blindly not go according to a psak BUT
that one should ask any questions they have about the psak (for example,
how did the rav get to the psak, what are his reasons for following a
certain shitah (way) and not the other etc.) and if there is alot of
talk about "daas torah" then maybe one should get a different opinion or
better yet learn and arrive at your own psak.


From: Shlomo H. Pick <F12013@...>
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 93 04:18:58 -0500
Subject: Rabbinical Infallibility


It is certainly clear, as already been pointed out on this list,
that neither the king, even King David, nor the Great Sanhedrin
are infallible in Halacha, as Morris Podolock suggests.  The
whole Tractate Horiyot which explains the verses at the end of
Parshat vayikra deals with this.  For that matter, neither is the
Kohen gadol who was annointed with oil and wore the urim ve-tumim
(If Yale didn't translate, neither do you have to) infallible.
And even individual posekim can make mistakes and not infallible.
The talmud in Sanhedrin fol. 33a-b discusses the mistakes of dayan
and quotes a mishna from tractate bechorot 28b that rabbi tarphon
made a mistake in his pesak and he himself declared that he had
just lost his donkey (to pay damages incurred due to his pesak)
and Rabbi akiva retorted that he was exempt for reasons that are not
pertenent to the discussion here, but at any rate, according to the
conclusion which is like the opinion of r. akiva, once again r. tarphon
was wrong! (the impression one also gets is that r. tarphon did not
continue to disagree but stood corrected).
at any rate, so much for infallibility in Halachik decisions by great
rabbinical leaders of a generation (the kohen gadol, king david, the
sanhedrin, r. tarphon).

i would also like to point out that in the last epistle of maimonides
to r. yehonatan of lunel (blau edition, III, p. 57) Maimonides alludes
to the fact that there might be mistakes in his Mishne
Tora and hence it is only right that one should check after him to
insure that there are no mistakes.
Moreover, if we had only the commentary of the mishna alone, would one
say that all of maimonides comments and decisions there are infallible,
for Maimonides himself reversed himself over 600 times from the mishna
commentary to the mishne tora (see the doctorate of my friend aharon
Adler who dealt with this issue and a good example is kesef kiddushin
which maimonides dealth with all his life whether it was biblical or
rabbinical in nature - see kapach's ed. of mishne commentary
Kiddushin I:1 and sources there).  Once the posek himself retracts,
then the term infallibility is inoperable!


End of Volume 10 Issue 44